LEGO The Hobbit Review
Written Friday, April 11, 2014 By Lee Abrahams
How do you follow a story as epic as the Lord of the Rings? With great difficulty it seems, as focusing on the prequel, The Hobbit, has turned into something of a love and hate relationship. While fans are excited to see more of Middle-earth there are justifiable questions about creating a trilogy of films that take more time to watch than it would to actually read the book. Stuffed with plot points from some of Tolkien’s other works, bloated by filler material and generally not as interesting as LotR, The Hobbit is hopefully going to right a few wrongs with an epic finale. So that also begs the question: why release the game before the trilogy is complete? Certainly on the evidence provided in LEGO The Hobbit, it seems hard to justify.
Telling the story of Bilbo Baggins' own adventures from his youth, and his eventual acquisition of a certain ring of power, this covers all the major bases. The game tracks the films to date, extra filler and all, as it tells the tale of Bilbo meeting with Gandalf and a gaggle of dwarves determined to reclaim their lost glories. As with the last LEGO game set in Middle-earth you can expect a fairly faithful recreation of some familiar locations and faces – though the smaller story means that there is that much less of the world to see, which is something of a shame. Still the world is lovingly recreated and looks wonderful, so you truly feel like you are romping through Middl-earth on your own quest. Of course the main problem being that the story in the game ends without letting you know how it all turns out.
Time for a troll filled tea party.
Unlike traditional LEGO games this one apes its predecessor and uses voice work taken directly from the films rather than going with the silent movie treatment. This means the cutscenes and voiceover material is suitably epic, but some of the jokes are lost along the way and we have to take comfort in sight gags and occasional slapstick humour. It means you get more of the story but it also feels like some of the charm and parody elements have been lost to do so. Thankfully the voice work and score is superb but you do feel like LEGO games should have stuck to the original formula, as if we had wanted the same old story then we could have just watched the films – whereas past LEGO games always put a new spin on the source material.
As you would expect Bilbo and company take centre stage and it is here that the problems lie, as other than Gandalf and some of the later cameos, none of the characters resonate in the same way. All of the dwarves feel completely interchangeable and other than their gruff leader Thorin, never really set themselves apart. So much so that the game has to remind you, via the menus, of which character has which ability as knowing by just looking at them soon becomes impossible. In LotR you knew Gimli was the dwarf who could break rocks, Legolas shot arrows, Sam could fish and so on, with each character's skills making sense and matching what they did in the film. Here they are all just a much of a muchness with arbitrary skills assigned to each, with most of them just doing exactly the same thing as the next guy.
In a way it’s unavoidable, as the story has Bilbo teamed with a bunch of dwarves, and TT Games has tried to make each of them unique, but it never quite seems to work. Part of that is probably down to the success of the films, as they clearly haven’t been as well received as the LotR trilogy was. So the characters and story just don’t instantly hit home in the same way, instead falling flat, and feeling relatively unimportant. Other than Bilbo and Gandalf, it's hard to really care about anyone else. With so many new scenes and set pieces that have been added, beyond what was in the original novel, LEGO The Hobbit will feel off to those who have already read the book regardless.
Glow in the dark swords make people angry: FACT.
For the most part this game is thankfully still fun to play. As ever you smash blocks and solve puzzles and a neat new addition sees destroyed objects dropping actual LEGO pieces that you can collect to use in building other objects later on. You can also mine rocks for these resources via a little mini-game; a clever addition and one that makes so much sense it’s a wonder it wasn’t added to the LEGO series sooner.
Levels seem to vary between being supremely short (10-15 minutes) or starting to outstay their welcome (45 minutes and more) though most occupy a happy middle ground. As ever you flick between characters and the fact the menu highlights what skills they possess proves to be a lifesaver, as the generic nature of most of them makes it hard to remember what is what. The levels themselves are decent but not groundbreaking and there are very few additions to the tried and tested formula. With the lack of humour on show it can make some sections feel like a chore rather than the fun romp it should be.
Outside of levels you can explore a good chunk of Middle-earth, with each level linking to the next in a natural way. While the area seems smaller than in LotR there are plenty of hidden locations, accessed via doors, to find and characters to interact with for quests and the like. Sadly most of these merely revolve around the bonus items and gear you find hidden in levels, so never really challenge you to do anything different. In truth that's the major flaw here. If you have played LEGO LotR it just feels like this is a poor imitation. There is still fun to be had but most of the areas feel exactly the same, or even a bit more confined, than in their predecessor which is a crying shame. There is still a lot to see and do, but it never feels like it hits the same iconic highs. Plus, it doesn’t help that the co-op has problems: in terms of the camera angles and certain mini-games (such as the plate juggling and instructional building), things are made harder than they need to be. It’s been an issue for a while now so the fact it still crops up is unacceptable.
Bilbo and that nefarious trouble maker Gandalf.
With the story not actually reaching a satisfying conclusion, and the very real terror of the first major LEGO DLC potentially arriving later in the year, it seems harsh that this game is just as expensive as previous LEGO titles that have included that much more. If DLC content is the future for LEGO games then have we seen the end of these bundle packages of fun? If not then why not just wait until the end of the year when the film is out and release the game then? It’s a baffling decision and one that means, for all the game's good points, you may as well wait for the DLC if you want the whole story, which you obviously do, right?
As ever the LEGO achievements are exactly what you would expect, with level completion top of the list, followed by a few tasks for finding all of the hidden items, one or two interesting ones and a bunch of kill requirements. All of which leads up to the inevitable 100% completion that is required. With LEGO games having so many secrets and hidden areas, plus easter eggs galore, you'd think it wouldn’t take much effort at all to cobble together a much more innovative list. Alas that still hasn’t happened.
On the whole LEGO The Hobbit is a disappointment. It's still a fun filled LEGO title, but the lack of a complete story, coupled with bland characters and too much filler means that this starts to wear thin sooner than you’d expect. It’s still ideal fodder for children, but has lost some of that sense of fun and whimsy that made previous LEGO titles so enjoyable for people of all ages. While you can still invest plenty of time in hunting down every item and collectible the formula is starting to creak. It feels like there is not enough that is actually NEW to see and do in LEGO The Hobbit to really justify the purchase, especially with one third of the story yet to come, so you may as well hold off until the trilogy (and this game) is complete. I’ve no doubt another LEGO game will be along to fill the gap shortly.
With voice work and music taken straight from the films this is suitably well done stuff, with the familiar epic score marrying well with the cut scenes.
The LEGO games continue to go from strength to strength and this is a wonderful game to look at, though there are occasional glitches and blemishes when things get too hectic.
The same formula with a few new twists, it’s a fine addition but just doesn’t feel as fun or varied thanks to the cramped cast and locales. Plus, the same old co-op problems are STILL present and incorrect.
The real problem is trying to spin out a lot of content from a very short book, and with the final third missing to boot. Some of the levels feel like filler and drag on a bit longer than they should, and with most of the main characters being almost identikit dwarves there is a sense of boredom that creeps in.
The standard LEGO formula of level completion and random tasks before getting the full 100%, should have injected a few new ideas by now.
Sandwiched between the last two films LEGO The Hobbit feels like it's missing its ending, and the characters just don’t have the instant recognition and iconic status as their LotR counterparts. LEGO The Hobbit is still a game full of things to see and do, but the problem is that you have the nagging feeling you have seen and done them all before.
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